Summit reveals “complete change of mindset” needed for sustainable business travel

by: Felicity Cousins | June 15, 2023

US: The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Sustainability Summit brought together industry experts from hotels and across the sector with some urging for a “complete change of mindset” along with collaboration to make green business travel work.

Delphine Millot, managing director of the GBTA Foundation said: “Engaging business travellers and activating the point of sale to empower them to select more sustainable options will be critical − with corporate travel managers playing a leading role in driving that needed change. But to get there as an industry we must unify standards and make the investments needed to decarbonise business travel.”

The GBTA also released its State of Climate Action in Business Travel – Global Industry Barometer 2023 at its sustainability summit this week.

Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA, said the report shows the importance of collaboration to facilitate a greener future for business travel. 

Standardisation for the measurement and collection of data and alignment across the sector was also something which was prominent in the results.

Delphine Millot, managing director of the GBTA Foundation explained, one of the key takeaways from the report was that a large majority (65 per cent) of respondents want aligned standards on emissions measurement, accounting, and reporting. And 60 per cent wanted the GBTA to develop a standardised set of sustainability questions which could be used in procurement.

According to the research “As of today, over 5,000 companies have shared their targets via the Science-Based Targets Initiative – but only 3 per cent have targets that specifically relate to their business travel emissions.”

GBTA’s Sustainability Initiative aims to catalyse collective action in the global business travel industry to address and reduce climate change. Last year, 90 per cent of the industry said that GBTA should guide the sector in its sustainability journey. This was reinforced this year by members asking for best practices, case studies, harmonised standards, and research to guide next steps.

Speaking at the GBTA Sustainable Business Travel Summit Sara Digiesi, chief executive officer for Best Western Hotel Group Italia explained what is needed to build a greener future for business travel and why the group joined the GBTA Sustainable Leadership Council. “BWH joined as it is an important initiative for the entire industry … We need to work together and show how we can improve and reduce our impact.” 

Digiesi added that a “complete change of mindset” is what is needed for greener business travel in the future. As for the way the industry measures its activities, she noted the sector has to work together to “harmonise” the metrics.

BWH Italy has had a programme for the last 10 years called Stay for the Planet, which helps properties to monitor their sustainability performance looking at five diverse measurements in terms of energy consumption, water consumption, waste disposal, supply activity and the supply chain. 

The results achieved since 2012 to date consolidate Best Western’s commitment to environmental sustainability:

  • Potential Greenhouse Effect: -21 per cent
  • Energy requirements: -17 per cent
  • Water Footprint: -26 per cent

Hilton’s vice president of global ESG, Jean Garris Hand said Hilton joined the GBTA initiative because its brand ethos was to help people enjoy travelling the world and meeting people from other cultures, but that there is only one planet and so “together with fellow colleagues within the GBTA Sustainable Leadership Council and working together with GBTA is an important step forward, so we are really, really glad to be part of this group”

Garris Hand explained that what is needed for a future sustainable business travel was for hotels to understand their customers’ priorities –  “so if climate change is a top priority then we want our customers to look for science based targets and the rigour and the robust data that’s required to have climate action goals validated by the SBTi…. to build a sustainable future for business travel we need to educate and we need to collaborate.”

Hilton, which has been recognised as a global leader in sustainability, has revalidated its climate ambition with the SBTi and it was the first  in the sector in 2018 to set science based targets and part of the commitment which requires a hotel or company to evolve every five years alongside whatever is happening with climate science. 

Garris Hand said: “Since the Paris Agreement shifted from the 2 degree Celsius to the 1.5 degree Celsius so has our ambition, and that has changed our goal from a 61 per cent reduction to a 75 per reduction in our managed portfolio by 2030…. So with that greater ambition comes a lot of work ahead to really amplify the efforts that we’ve had to date.”

Hilton also recently announced significant investment in Fifth Wall’s Climate Fund. Fifth Wall is the largest venture capital fund in the Built World (which means in existing buildings). Fifth Wall has an Early Stage and a Late Stage fund that looks at ESG technologies.  The Early Stage technologies are creative ideas of the future, imaginative, captivating, decarbonisation technologies and solutions. The Late Stage fund looks at technologies that are patented, manufactured and already installed in buildings or ready to install in buildings. Garris Hand added: “We’re very excited about that as well”. 

GBTA’s State of Climate Action in Business Travel – Global Industry Barometer 2023 showed 92 per cent of respondents say sustainability is a priority for their organisation (up from 89 per cent last year). When that’s broken down to regions, the figure remains high with Europe (98 per cent) along with Asia Pacific and Latin America (both 100 per cent) saying sustainability is a priority. North America was a little behind with only 86 per cent saying it was a priority.

There is much more work to be done across the sector, however. Respondents were asked what share of total emissions business travel represents for their company and almost half (49 per cent) had no idea what that figure might be for their organisation. The report acknowledges that this might be because their companies do not track emissions or because this information has not been shared with them.

The global survey found that travel managers have also been set targets to reduce Scope 3 emissions (more than half at 54 per cent) while 23 per cent of respondents said there were plans for these reductions. 

As reflected in the findings, “business travel is at a critical juncture” as the industry continues to adjust to new realities and envisions a more resilient future for global travel. 

The survey informing the report findings was distributed to the global business travel community, including GBTA members and stakeholders. It was conducted between April 17 and May 5, 2023, resulting in 863 responses from business travel professionals across North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East.

For the full report click here.

Image: Pexels Free Photos